I have the privilege of working with a lot of very smart people in my role as a Leadership (Executive) Coach.
Many of my clients are technical experts, project managers, engineers, and people managing others in the tech space. Some have direct authority over others, and others have to influence without direct authority.
Navigating through people issues (often referred to in companies as ‘soft skills’) is a critical part of every person’s role in an organization. We have to build trusting relationships, work with others unlike us, and navigate through conflicting or differences in viewpoints in order to achieve company imperatives.
What do you think I should do?
It’s always interesting for me to observe these smart people and what they expect of me as their coach. Many are under the impression that I’m going to give them the answers and tell them how to deal with these ‘difficult’ people situations. This comes from a consulting/expert model which is often what they are required to do in their role as an expert – tell others what to do and how to do it.
We are always modeling something, so what are we role modeling to our clients? What bothers me is when my client’s report having had coaching and received a lot of ‘this is what you need to do’ expert input. That is not necessarily coaching, but may be part of coaching if handled correctly. More on that later.
I believe its part of my job to continually be the best role model for authentic communication and developing people skills, and to help my client to understand how to use me well as their coach. That means explaining what I do as a coach, demonstrating good coaching skills, and continuing to educate on my role and how to use me well as we go through our coaching engagement.
I have worked with more than one client who explains their situation and then says to me, “So what do you think I should do?” This is my choice point. Do I give them my answer based on my beliefs or experience? Or do I elicit what they know and see what’s there before I add any of my own ideas? I opt for the latter 99% of the time because I’m aware I’m role modeling listening, eliciting thoughts, ideas and observing the emotional responses of my client.
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Educate, Educate, Educate
To educate the client, I will say something like, “I could give you my ideas of what you should do, but before I consider doing that, I want to find out what your thoughts are and what you’ve tried. There is no right way of doing things when it comes to working with people, although there are some principles that are always going to be good, such as listening to what others think instead of just telling them what you think. So first, I want to listen to you and find out what you’ve already tried and what you are thinking of trying next and I’ll see if there is anything I can then add.”
Now I’m educating my client on what coaching is, and also role modeling a skill of eliciting what the other person knows, not just advocating my point of view and ideas as expert to acquiesce to. I’m helping my client to think for themselves, and use their brain muscle in a different way.
The funny thing is when in a next session my client does the same thing, sharing their situation and ask me, “So what do you think I should do?” Now I can be playful with my client and say something like, “Well you know how I’m going to answer that. From last session, you demonstrated that you know more about people than you think you know. What have you tried and what are you thinking?”
I often ask them about their experiences outside the work environment when they’ve successfully handled a difficult conversation with a friend or family member or even how their spiritual beliefs support them be empathetic toward others. I treat my client’s as whole people who have knowledge across their whole life. This may lead them to realizing they can transfer some of their ‘personal life’ skills to their business environment.
When expertise can be used a coaching skill
In my role as an ICF Assessor, and a Mentor Coach for MCC, PCC or ACC credential applicants, I’m listening for how the coach engages with the client when the client asks them for advice. Now sometimes it’s appropriate to ‘consult’ and give the client some ideas. What’s most important is that as a coach, my FIRST responsibility is to draw out what the client already knows. THEN if it still feels appropriate, only then to offer them some ideas, or resources they might find useful. But this comes AFTER exploring what the client already knows and in the form of offering your ideas without attachment to the client agreeing with you.
Consciously decide when to give input
On some occasions, it’s clear that the client needs more direct input, and so as a coach, I need to determine if I continue to elicit from the client what they know, or if it’s going to be better for the client if I give some direct input sooner than later. And then shift back to listening spaciously, asking deeper questions or making observations. But this is a conscious decision, not an unconscious response. I choose and decide based on what I know about my client. I need to determine if my client will just accept whatever I say as if it’s the truth, or whether they’ll take what I say as another option to consider.
I’m educating my client’s to use me well by the way I build their capacity to think through their issues for themselves, not just giving them my ideas, experience and expertise.
What can you do to better educate your client on how to use you well?
Are you preparing for your first or next ICF Credential? Or do you want to “Sharpen the Saw” of your coaching skills?
The next Group Program commences
September 8, 2015 – only 2 places remain!
Carly Anderson and Karen Boskemper offer an awesome mentor coaching group and individual program that has many exclusive offerings for our participants. Both have been trained by the ICF to assess using the new PCC Markers.
One of those offerings is an extensive library of MCC, PCC and ACC coaching sessions for our participants to listen to, evaluate, debrief, and learn from, along with The Target Approach to demystifying the ICF core competencies. These are incredibly valuable learning tools, and will accelerate your understanding of competency distinctions.
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